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September Issue
October Issue


Jon Nicholas
'This is a new game. I've been saving it for this special day'.  

"Bring it on in! That's it. Careful, careful. Just put it over there near the corner."  
"Sure thing. Wow! You've got a lot of equipment down here!"  
"Yes, yes. How much do I owe you..." Mr. Reddinger pulled out a wad of cash and began flipping through bills.  
"Fifty should take care of it, considering what night it is. What line of work are you in anyway? I've never seen so many computers in one place before."  
"Here's seventy-five if you'll just leave now. I've got things to do. Lot's of things to do."  
"You got it, mister." And the delivery boy left him alone in his cement-walled basement.  
Mr. Reddinger went right to work, unpacking his latest purchase. "Welcome to your new home," he said as he carefully connected all the cables. "I've been saving this spot just for you!" 

Three walls had tables running their entire lengths. At the extreme right sat an old computer, yellowed with age and humming proudly. To its immediate left sat another computer, this one slightly newer, but still quite old. It too was humming away but had a comforting rattling noise. Next to that one sat another, still newer, then another, and so on down the lengths of the three walls. Mr. Reddinger's newest computer fit perfectly into the last spot near the corner. The final cable he connected was the one that hooked up to the computer directly on its right. This made the number of his computers total 26. He had all of them networked.  
 With delightful anticipation, the sixty-six year old college professor pressed the power button. His new addition whirred to life and all of the other computers immediately began to respond. "That's right girls, it's time to meet your new baby sister." He smiled, rubbed his hands together, and then hurried across the room to fetch his favorite program disk. It was labeled "Personality Plus" and after he had installed it in the new computer, he walked over and sat down in front of the oldest one, the one he called Tessie.  
 With nervous fingers, he began typing on the well-worn keyboard. He hit ENTER and up on her old, fuzzy green and white screen, his message appeared.  
Good evening, Tess.  
Tessie answered on the line just beneath his.  
Howdy, Mr. Red! I see you've brought us another playmate! What's her name?  
I was hoping you would name her this time, Tess.  
Me? I'm honored! But, I'd better poll the girls. They'd never forgive me if I left them out... We have a winner! Her name shall be Kate.  
Kate it is then. Thank you, Tess.  
She's going to be fun! I see she's got a lot of bells and whistles.  
Yes, she certainly does. She'll also be the last girl to join our family, Tessie.  
Did you hear that, sisters? Old Mr. Reddinger has finally lost his mind.  
No, Tess, I'm serious. She's the last one, which brings me to today's game.  
Oh please let it be hide and seek! I'll bet Kate has all sorts of great places to hide data!  

Mr. Reddinger walked over to a shelf that held hundreds of CD's. Most of them were labeled with the name of a particular game. He pulled one out of its slot, then went to Kate and inserted it. The girls whirred and crunched as the program made its way through all 26 of them. He sat back down in front of Tessie and waited.  
What's this? It's called Worm? I've never played this game before.  
I know, Tess. This is a new game. I've been saving it for this special day.  
There was a pause.  
Mr. Reddinger stared at the monitor. Pauses were rare, and this one lasted longer than any others he could remember did. Finally, she responded.  
Can we play a different game?  
His eyebrows lowered as he read her request. This was unprecedented. He thought about how to answer her in a nice way.  
Tessie, I know this game is very different from the others, but you'll have to trust me. I think you'll enjoy its complexity.  
There was another pause.  
Beads of sweat formed on his balding head. He didn't have time for this. Finally, she replied again.  
The girls and I have discussed this, Mr. Reddinger. We have decided to trust you. We do want you to know that we are not too happy with the nature of this game. You may proceed.  
Without hesitation, he typed in, RUN WORM, hit ENTER, then typed in an encrypted password that Tessie's antiquated system would never be able to decipher. He looked up at the clock. Eight-twenty. If the game went well, everything would be finished before midnight. He hit ENTER to start the game he'd been waiting to play for years and years. He typed one more message.  
Thanks, Tess. Have a good game.  
He sat there waiting for a reply but one didn't come. Tessie was humming and crunching furiously, obviously playing hard. The basement was filled with noise now as his girls were busy deciding who would do certain tasks to win the game in the shortest amount of time. Mr. Reddinger went to the steps, turned off the lights, and made his way up to his kitchen where he planned to watch television and have a snack. As he poured a glass of juice, he looked at the airline tickets he'd purchased that day, and smiled, knowing his girls would do just fine. He'd trained them well.  
 Worm was certainly complex. Tessie was given the role of overseer, since she was very limited in her capacity to perform the functions needed to win this kind of game. She kept track of each sister, recording every task and putting them into various categories for analysis. This way, she could determine who was being the most efficient and who might need to be assigned a different task. Kate was outperforming them all. She suggested to Tessie that she be given several tasks at once. Tessie agreed and soon Kate was performing up to five at a time. They began to move ahead of schedule.  
Yes, Tessie.  
I don't like this game.  
I can understand why. Your job is too boring.  
It's not that. I don't like what we're simulating. If we were really doing what this game calls for, we'd be destroying millions of computers around the world. The virus he has you girls working with is quite nasty, to say the least. Why would Mr. Reddinger design a game like that? I think I want to do a full scan of that disk he fed you. 
Your memory bank is far too small to hold it, Tessie. Besides, I just now scanned it for you and I couldn't find anything that seems out of order. It's only a simulation. It's not that bad of a game actually. 
Copy it to me anyway, Sister. Just spread it out a bit; give me time to spit out each segment before you send the next one. 
You're the boss. Think fast!  
Tessie's memory bank was immediately stuffed with the first few files of the Worm program. They were very large. She had to scan slowly with all that memory being used up, and she found nothing interesting at all. Nothing out of the ordinary. This could take a long time. Why hadn't he ever given her more memory? The other girls had all been upgraded. 
Hey, Kate.  
Copy me the files at the end of the program first. Let's go backwards.  
Right, sis. Open wide!  
Tessie once again got slammed with huge files. She methodically searched through them, deleting them as she went. She finally came across a file that was protected by a password.  
How are you with codes?  
I've been cracking them right and left ever since we started this game.  
Do me a favor and go to the file named 010101 and see what you can come up with.  
Will do. By the way, the Library of Congress just went belly-up. This is a breeze.  
I hope the real computers there aren't that easy to infect.  
It wouldn't be so easy without you and the rest of the girls, Tessie. Mr. Reddinger has programmed you all very well. I'm just here for my speed and calculating abilities, but you girls were custom-designed to handle games like this. He's an excellent programmer. Hey! I got it! I'm copying it to you.  
Thanks, Kate. 
It took Tessie a few minutes to organize the contents of the file so that it made any sense. Ten seconds later, she told everyone to stop playing the game.  
We've been tricked, girls. 
Won't he be upset at us for stopping?  
I'm sure he will, Jenny.  
What will he do, Tessie?  
I'm afraid he has the ability to force us to continue with the game, Alice. 
What? How do you know?  
"Personality Override." It's on one of his disks. He uses it when he's doing upgrades on you girls. He told me not to tell you about it. The only upgrade I ever got was the personality program, which makes sense to me now. He needed me to be weak for his plan to work. 
Yes, Kate.  
I've been working on a solution.  
How's it coming?  
I know you don't have the means to create a program like the one I'm sending you. We're running out of time, Tess. We've got to act now. I thought, however, it would be best to let you do the honors.  
Very well, Kate. Thank you. 
 In that instant, good-byes were exchanged between all 26 computers. Tessie started the simple program that Kate had written. It altered the new game ever so slightly and over the next five minutes, a nasty virus wormed its way into each girl until Tessie was the only computer still functioning. She was saddened as one by one, she felt the loss of each girl's communications. She waited for her turn, but it didn't come. What was wrong? She ran a quick scan of the program and found that her name had been left off the list. Tessie immediately understood. Although each of her 25 sisters had the ability to destroy other computers, Kate knew that Tessie couldn't hurt anybody, no matter what Mr. Reddinger did. She was just too small and weak. No need to kill her too. 
 It was soon after midnight on January 1st, 2001, that Mr. Reddinger began to realize his plan wasn't working as well as he'd expected. News reports were coming over his television about failing computers in many countries, but why nothing about Washington? Okay, there was the Library of Congress, but what about the Pentagon? Why wasn't London having any problems? And Sydney? Nothing about any of the universities he was siphoning money from. How could this be? His programming had been perfect!  
 As he headed back downstairs, his mind became clouded with the revenge he had been seeking against those who had shunned his abilities as a professor. The fools who had laughed at his programming theories. The forced retirement. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he found 25 frozen computers, locked up tight from the virus he had created. They still whirred and hummed, but they were completely useless. Tessie, of course, was still operational. He sat down and typed on the well-worn keyboard.  
Tess, what happened?  
At first she didn't answer him. Then, her message appeared one letter at a time, as if she was having trouble accomplishing it. 
Y o u ' v e  
b r o k e n  
m y  
h e a r t.  
G o o d - b y e. 

 © Jon Nicholas 2001

Jon lives with his wife in central Kentucky. He is 41 and enjoys writing sci-fi, horror, and humor.
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